Falling, or shooting stars are not actually stars despite their name, yet their brilliance and supposed rarity causes people to experience them as being magical. Visible to the naked eye, shooting stars are made up of particles of dust and rocks known as meteoroids. The light trail they leave across the sky resembles a pathway, or star tail to observers who have not studied astronomy. While viewers may often be wrong about shooting stars origins, wishing upon them may not seem so absurd, as their beauty and wow factor adds romance to the night sky.
When meteoroids work through Earths outer layer, they are attracted by gravity, and look like they are falling. What is actually happening it that they are getting very hot, very quickly and burning up, due to an upsurge of heat created by friction. The result is a meteor, and if any part of it actually impacts on Earth, it is then known as a meteorite.
Meteor showers tend to occur at particular times of the year after comets orbiting the sun leave a trail behind, and Earth passes through it. The debris enter Earths outer layers, react with the air, are pulled inwards by gravity and burn up before your eyes, that is if you look up at the right moment. You are more likely to miss a shooting star than see one, unless you walk around with your neck permanently craned towards the sky.
One reason people may assume meteoroids are stars, apart from their luminosity, is because they tend to be named after the constellation that is present when they are first spotted, unlike actual comets that are generally named after the person who discovers them. Calling meteoroids after nearby constellations helps astronomers recognize and observe them.
Shooting stars fascinate people because they are part of nature’s theatrical production as far as most people are concerned. However, to astronomers their cousins, from whom they can originate called asteroids, are occasionally worrisome. It is thought by scientists that dinosaurs were wiped out many years ago when a huge asteroid hit Earth, incinerated much life, caused devastation and the resulting debris blocked out the sun, plunging Earth into an ice age.
Unlike some asteroids, the biggest meteoroids are the size of small pebbles, and most of them are as tiny as a grain of sand. Pebble sized ones leave the brightest trail as they burn up due to ionized hot gasses, and are often referred to as fireballs.
Next time you gaze skywards and spot a bright trail of light in the dark, do not be disappointed that it is not really a falling star. Instead, you can wonder at the amazing world and universe where you reside, which provides you with such awe-inspiring wonderment.
nasa.gov iloveindia.com aerospaceguide.net